Assemble Your 5G Phone To Become Atmanirbhar

The OptimusLogic Team

As India gets ushered into a new era with the advancement of 5G, a defence startup, OptimusLogic has come up with India’s first indigenously designed 5G phone – Optimus Rhino 5G. Read on as the founder Chandra Kumar talks to Yashasvini Razdan from Electronics For You, about daring to venture into the smartphone market during a pandemic….

Q. Could you tell me how is Rhino 5G different from any other 5G phone and how did it come into being?

A. We developed this phone in the past six months. We were assisted by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) in this process. We launched this phone on October 1, 2022, in Delhi at Pragati Maidaan when Modi ji launched 5G in India. This is the first phone that worked at the event itself. Our phone is a 6.7-inch display phone, which supports all frequency bands from 700MHz to 4GHz. We support all 5G bands. Most of the phones in the market support the consumer band, which is n78 (3500 MHz) in India. But if you look at railways, and the army they look at many use cases, they look at the 700 MHz range, because the lower the frequency, the higher the range. The 700MHz is a very premium spectrum which has been auctioned, to support the railways. Optimus Rhino 5G mobiles support all these bands and global network bands of major countries. We have created something that has value not only for India but globally as well. This phone was able to work in Australia, the US, Germany and Canada. We have created a global 5G platform, and we are taking this to a global audience. Nobody in India has been able to build a 5G phone till now, other than the MNCs. So this is our invention, and it is very cost-competitive and looks very beautiful as well. We have seen great footfall at IEW 2022. This is only the beginning. So from here, we move on to tablets, we move laptops, we move to CXL servers for data centre operators, essentially, they’re all the same design.

Chandra Kumar Chettiar holding the Optimus Rhino 5G

Q. Could you delve deeper into the technicalities of this phone?

A. This is a 6.7-inch Android 12 mobile phone and runs on the octa-core processor MediaTek Dimensity 900 platform. It supports 17 5G bands starting from B1 to almost N78. So it supports 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, both as standalone and non-standalone. For example, Jio is coming up with standalone architecture (SA), which means it’s a pure 5G service. Standalone architecture means it supports a completely new 5G network. Now Airtel has done a non-standalone(NSA) which means that the 5G network is built over an existing 4G architecture. So that’s more cost-effective and gives them more bandwidth. This phone supports both standalone and non-standalone 5G.

This phone costs about 20,000 rupees. It has a quad camera, starting with 64 megapixels to 2.8 megapixels so that you get the 3D effect in your photos. It has a 5000 mAh battery. It supports NavIC GPS (India’s GPS) which is very specific to India so you can take advantage of the more secure and more accurate GPS. It comes with 8 GB RAM and a 128 GB flash drive. So it should be more than sufficient for the next five to six years of running your stuff. This phone can be assembled by anybody. We are now going to make a factory-less approach to build this phone. So we are moving our assembly lines to Patna and Ranchi. We will be targeting Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities where this phone can be manufactured by anybody. I want to emphasize that when people buy this phone, they buy the entire components, and it’s like a 3D puzzle to put together for a 10-year-old. So this is the kind of engineering mindset that we want to encourage so that people are encouraged to put this together and take it apart. This way you allow innovation to happen and everybody learns how to build a phone.

Q. How did you come up with the idea to build this phone?

A. This idea existed for many years, and before 2020, I was always thinking that we should build a phone. Many people built phones and those brands no longer exist because the innovation was not driven from the base. So when we started in 2020, we wanted to perform. We started working with many companies that were successfully building phones. So the main component is a processor, RAM and flash. The processor is easy to get – we have Qualcomm and Mediatek, but when it comes to RAM and flash, there are very few companies. So when Micron entered India, we started working with Micron on a large scale, to build their work. And that’s how we built this relationship. So this is a nine-year-old journey in building a phone and it is built on many years of experience working on development for the defence. So that’s why today, in six months, we could build the product. The homework has been happening for the last nine years. So this was always our idea to build a phone. This is the biggest B2C product that you can build in India because there are 17 million phones sold in a year. So we want to have a significant percentage of the market.

Q. Do you design and manufacture the phone by yourself or do you have external partners? 

A. No, we designed this phone and the PCB. We get the PCB manufactured and then we assemble it. We do the assembly inside our office. Everything is hand-assembled. The backplate is an industrial design which we get from the factories. The key component of any phone is the main PCB on which the entire radio electronics, processor and memory sit. That is the key component, other than the display that you see. So, the main value added is the PCB that we designed so that we can repurpose it for anybody. So this is our contribution. We have tied up with VVDN Technologies in Manesar, which will do the manufacturing on a larger scale in India.

Q. If anybody can assemble this phone, how do you ensure that this model is not copied by somebody else? 

A. I want everybody to start assembling this phone on their own and for that, no assembly knowledge is required. It should not be even a factory for that matter. So for example, if you look at the iPhone, people work for 14 hours in an Indian factory to build an Apple phone, but they don’t learn anything. It’s like fixing a camera in five seconds. That is not going to get you anywhere. The main thing is to design the PCB. Now when you design a PCB and send it for manufacturing to any other place, just because they can print it does not mean they know how to replicate it. So for example, Apple PCB is made in China, but there’s no Apple copy in China because the technology cannot be copied. The main stuff is design, which is important. We need PCB designers. We are distinct. If I give the PCB to more people, it is good for the business. The potential is actually in the design. So, it is perfectly fine that more and more people learn how to build phones. That is good for business. The rest is all about mechanical design.

Q. So would you call the PCB the USP of your product your entire phone? 

A. Yes. Once the main PCB is created, everything is about connecting the peripherals like the display, microphone, and speaker and connecting some keys. Everything is electronics. Electronics and software drive the entire product. So that is where we need more engineers to come to India, who are interested in the field of electronics. Today more money is on the software side, we are the market leaders in terms of chip design talent, but when you talk about hardware, it is very low. That is where we need more people.

Q. So would you call this innovation, a business strategy innovation or technical innovation?

A. I think it is a technical innovation because we have been able to support all the 5G bands in a very small form factor and it is already supported in the mobile. So this is a technological innovation.

Q. Is this a completely new product a completely or an upgrade over something you’ve previously designed?

A. This is an entirely new innovation. For ten years, we have been working on defence radios, which are used by the Indian Army. We have built smartwatches, and smart LED lights using IoT. We have worked with many companies to build their phones, but none of it was our design. So this was our background. This is the first time we put all this together to build a phone. The main support has come from the government. We are a DCIS grantee which means that this is a part of the Digital Communication Innovation Square program from the DoT. They granted us money and provided support for access to a lot of things which is a problem in India. We have to import many components and the red tape was removed and everything was given to us. That’s the reason we were able to build this phone.

Q. How has the response been so far to your product?

A. I think the response has been phenomenal. I think when we built this phone, we didn’t realize that the first person to use this phone would be our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, we went to meet him. He saw the phone and we got direct support from the PMO. So I think the response just started normally from the top and the footfall that we have witnessed at all events is phenomenal. Students have been the biggest responders. They just want to get their hands on the kit and build the phone. The first time some manufacturer is saying, ‘Why do you want a finished product? You’re an engineer, so just build it.’ Even at EFY’s IEW 2022, the number of students from the local colleges who showed their interest in the phone is just too much. They have given us their contact data, they want the kit and they want to build their phone. That is how we want to encourage people so that it becomes a bigger revolution.

Q. What are your expected or targeted sales?

A. We want to sell 1 million units by June 2023. That is the target.

Q. What is your current revenue and how do you intend to raise funds?

A. We are a self-sufficient company. We have never raised investment from the outside world. So we provide many services, we work with many companies, including Google and Micron, and we generate this revenue to fund this research and development. So our revenue is about ₹3.5 crore in a year, which is good enough to sustain our development. But now we’re going to raise money because we have products which can scale up. We are looking for 10 to 15 crores of investment. For that, we are talking to multiple players.

Q. When you mentioned external players, do you mean venture capitalists?

A. We are approaching venture capitalists and high-net-worth individuals. We’re also trying to see how broad funding can be enabled, and how it can be done. Anybody can invest in this because it’s an Indian product. This is the best chance that we can get when India gets to become a technology leader. This is what we want. Our target market is everybody, but I would want the VCs to invest in hardware companies.

Q. Did you face any major challenges along the way?

A. The first major challenge was to fund ourselves and that too during Covid-19. We used that as an opportunity because we’re a defence company, so we could work during Covid. We worked throughout the entire pandemic for many different companies and built a lot of things during this time. Money was tight, but we have many young people, a team of 30 people here. We sacrificed our salaries by half during that time and made sure that we use that money to build innovative solutions which can go into the phone. Once we got to this point, and when the DoT came in with this DCIS scheme, that was phenomenal. So today, we have the Secretary of Telecom and everybody on our WhatsApp. And for the last two years, I will say that the Indian Government has been reaching out to companies like us. We are on a WhatsApp group with people from various government departments and private companies, so we can work together as a team that has helped. When we reached March 2022, everything came together. By June, we were there and from June to October, we had the phone. So it all worked. The challenge that we will face now is taking this phone, to the whole world. That is something that we have not done before. No Indian brand has sold any of the electronics products outside India. There is no precedence to this. So if you want to enter the US or Europe, how do you do that? I think that is something that we’re looking at and we want new talent to join us who can unlock this.

Q. How do you intend to take this to a wider audience and when will it be commercially available?

A. This product will be commercially available within six months. We are already selling this to government departments, the army and the railways, and they are testing it in different scenarios. We are doing a test run across the government departments, where about 10,000 phones will be tested in India. Once we cross that then we are ready for mass production. The next milestone for us is to showcase this phone at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, from February 27 to March 3. We are already a part of the Indian pavilion because we are the only Indian player that has come so far. We are trying to sell this in Nepal and Nigeria, Ghana, and Mozambique in Africa. These are places where our technology has a big jump because there is less competition.

Q. What is the next milestone that you intend to achieve?

A. We are trying to create a campaign that will take this phone to the general public who will ultimately buy this phone. We are trying to convince the government and get our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to assemble this phone on national television. So when he assembles this phone, we can show that it is very easy for anybody to do this and that is how India must become atmanirbhar. So that is the selling point and a unique selling point which brings everybody to buy our phone. We want the message to go loud and clear to everybody that there is an Indian company making an Indian phone for the world. It works very well in the US, Canada, and Australia, but we want the Indian public to reach out and buy this product.

Q. Do you have any upcoming innovations apart from this phone or anything in the pipeline?

A. We are trying to get into the chipset domain. We have chosen is something called CXL (Compute Express link) which is a high-speed central processing unit-to-device and CPU-to-memory connection, designed for high-performance data centre computers. CXL enables us to scale the RAM dynamically from the outside. We are a part of the CXL Consortium. We are building a CXL switch and switch device, which you’ll see coming more and more in the next two years in data centres. It is like a scalable server. If you see Meta, they have something called Open Compute. They are telling us how the servers should be for the next generation. We are there and we understand that. We have just started on it in the last six months. I think these new innovations will bring us to an enterprise level across the world.



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